We Made it to Colorado! One National Monument and One National Park
Updated: May 16, 2020
This one is a little late and out of order from the “where are we going next” post, but you’ll figure it out.
It is September 19th and we are finally leaving Utah and entering Colorado for a bit.
Jen made her second trip at driving the truck and trailer...
and it went pretty well until..she had to back it up into our spot. Here was Lila’s perspective of the whole ordeal...
I have a feeling we may be back in Utah before we know it especially if the weather holds up. It is amazing how many nice people we have ran into along the trip on trails, view points, and various other spots. Once we get talking for a bit and they hear about our trip, they all give all these great ideas for places to go along the way. I try to write them down in my reminders and then add them in along the possible routes. Somewhere along our route, someone told me about Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction, CO. Luckily, it was already along our route and I was able to change our campsite for one night to state right near it.
Since it is a National Monument, our Annual Pass got us in for free. We only had one day here so we drove up the very scenic steep hill to the visitors center so we could get our Jr. Ranger books and start in. Jen and Lila sat in on a Ranger wildlife talk and I watched the short video about how the area was formed millions of years ago. While learning about the monument, we saw that the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, was responsible for building the 20-mile overlook road with 3 tunnels back in the 1930’s. I will say if you ever come here, make sure you drive in from the East entrance to do the scenic drive. All the overlooks are on that side of the road and right on a curve so it would be much easier and safer to be on that side of the road. Back in the early 1900’s, John Otto was the guy that fell in love with the area and was a huge proponent of preserving and promoting it to be a national park. Once it became a National Monument, he was the first custodian of it. He even climbed Independence Rock on 4th of July to put a flag up there.
After leaving Grand Junction, we headed toward Ridgway State Park about 4 miles North of Ridgway, CO. The main purpose of coming here was because we wanted to be close to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and I had heard that the towns of Ridgway, Ouray (pronounced you-ray), and Silverton were all pretty cool small towns in the San Juan Mountains.
Our first adventure was another “What is this going to cost me” moment 😲
As we got parked at the state park, I was outside getting the stabilizer jacks down and Jen was getting ready to open the slide-out. I finished and told her, “GO ahead” and she proceeded to open the slide then…..it stopped 🤔 I heard some beeping and went around to ask her what was wrong. She said she didn’t know but it seemed like Lila and her heard a weird popping noise and now there is a beeping sound going off when she tries to open it. 😖 I said there is no alarm that I know of related to the slide so I said close it a bit then try opening it again. As she was doing this, I heard a crack then the beeping came again with more cracking. She stopped and I asked her to bring it back in a bit and that is when we heard something move a bit on top of the slide. Apparently, the fire alarm in the kitchen area fell during our trip and when the slide opened, it crushed the alarm but not enough to break it, but enough to TEST it….beep…beep….beep! Ugh! Worst part was, I think I was the last one to touch the smoke detector.
Good thing these things are cheap! Good laughs!
We are usually pretty big on playing card games, but it took us this long before we broke out Dutch Blitz! If you like a fast paced game for kids and adults alike, you need to get this game. You can play with 4 people or buy the expansion pack for up to 8 people. It is a combination of Speed and Solitaire.
Anyways, our first full day here we decided we were going to drive up the “Million Dollar Highway” to Silverton and go check out an old mining ghost town called Animas Forks.
The “Million Dollar Highway” covers the 23 miles of road from Ouray to Silverton and more specifically the 12 miles South of Ouray. It is described as one of the most dangerous roads in America and is said to be challenging and potentially hazardous to drive due to the steep cliffs, narrow lanes, and lack of guardrails. I am glad I wasn’t driving the trailer up this road.
There are parts of it that look like the road overhangs the cliff by about 1-2’. There are many hairpin corners and steep descents plus it peaks at 11,000’.
I don’t understand why but they keep this road open year around especially since there are over 70 named avalanche paths that intersect the highway in those 23 miles. We even saw a sign that said there has been 4 men that have died while driving the snowplows used to keep the road open during the winter.
The Ranger at Cathedral Gorge had told me about this ghost town and said it was pretty cool because quite a few of the buildings were still standing. She forgot to mention you had to drive 5 miles up this road that was meant for high clearance vehicles only. We obviously had one but, wow, was this a bumpy, bumpy drive (see truck hood in video below). Lila almost lost a tooth because she had her head too close to her door and when I hit a big bump the truck came up to meet her mouth really quick! 😲 Fortunately, we didn’t need any emergency dental work done and we did make it to the ghost town. We even had to drive through the aftermath of an avalanche.
Apparently, this last winter was the worst winter in ages and they had the most avalanches in the US up there. I though it seemed like all the tree looked really young and I asked if they had logged there recently and they said nope, it is all from avalanches. Wow!
On our way back down the mountain, we saw they had a mining tour and I read that it was pretty cool to do so we went for it. The tour takes you 1/3 of a mile into the mountain on an old mining train then they give you a great tour on how “hard” mining is done. It was a really good tour because the tour guy “Marty” actually still does mining all over the world. He was very knowledgable and he kept Lila entertained by having her be his helper. Most of the equipment still worked and was ran on pneumatics “compressed air” so he demonstrated quite a few of them.
We did learn a couple things during this stay:
1. Most libraries have free wifi even in smaller towns like Ridgway. Yeah! We spent all day there Saturday working on school work and getting caught up on things.
2. For some reason, most restaurants in the few small towns of Colorado we have been to so far don’t have wifi.
3. If you need to get mail forwarded to you, you can call ahead and find out if the post office does “General Delivery”. If they do, you can have mail delivered there by putting your name, General Delivery, City, State, and postal code and they will hold it for you for 14-30 depending on the office.
4. If you order something from Amazon, you can’t tell them to use USPS specifically. That was no good because they shipped a “general delivery” box via UPS and the USPS denied it. Worst part was when we had the local UPS location hold it for us, they only allowed pick-ups to occur from 5PM-6PM….No Exceptions! We tried going there this morning, but NO Exceptions! We arrived there later at 4:15 and had to wait. 😖
More good laughs - Some how the song Baby Bot Back by Sir Mix-a-lot came up so we spent part of that 45 minutes trying to remember all the lyrics to it while leaving out the not-for-10-year-old-ears words/phrases. We finally had to google the lyrics.
I rode my bike into town about 7 miles to go work at the library. I forgot to mention that we finally hit the colder temperatures. Ridgway is at 7,000’ elevation and the temperature ranges were 65-75 for high and 35-45 for lows. Brrr, was it cold on the 2 miles down, but the next 5 miles of flat to slight incline warmed me right back up. After working, we went home for lunch then headed to the Ouray Hot Springs to enjoy some hot pool time. Too bad the weather was not on our side (it was maybe 65 and cloudy) and for some reason the only pool that was really warm (102°) was adults only so we stayed in the not so warm (97°, yes 5 degrees mattered) with Lila. We did sneak in a little time in the hot pool though.
Sorry no pictures.
We finally made it to the National Park. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is described by Author Duane Vandenbusche - “Several canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combine the depth, sheerness, narrowness, darkness, and dread of the Black Canyon”. The narrowest point of the canyon is 40’ wide at the river and the river drops an average of 95’ per mile vs. the Colorado drops just 7.5’ per mile through the Grand Canyon. They say you better be one of the best to kayak or raft this river. The Black Canyon name comes from the fact that its steepness makes it difficult for sunlight to penetrate into its depth.
After getting our Jr. Ranger Books, we asked the ranger what his favorite hikes were and he said there weren’t many options for hikes here, just a few 1-2 milers that you could connect together if you wanted. I asked about the Gunnison Trail that I read was cool because it took you down to the river. He said, “Well that isn’t really a hike, it is a class 3 scramble and you must get a permit to go on it.” He continued to tell us how hard and difficult it is and that you drop over 1800’ in 1.5 miles and many people get lost because it is also and unmarked trail. Hmmm…. We thought we just did Gooseberry at Canyonlands and they said the same thing about that one…sounds like fun we said 😂 He said ok, you are in luck because we only have 3 permits left today. Sign us up!
I looked up what the class 3 scramble was all about and it is from the Yosemite Decimal System for rating the difficulty of a hike or climb. Here are the levels:
Class 1: Hiking
Class 2: Simple scrambling, with the possible occasional use of the hands
Class 3: Scrambling; a rope might be carried
Class 4: Simple climbing, often with exposure. A rope is often used. A fall on Class 4 rock could be fatal. Typically, natural protection can be easily found
Class 5: Where rock climbing begins in earnest. Climbing involves the use of a rope, belaying, and protection (natural or artificial) to protect the leader from a long fall. Fifth class is further defined by a decimal and letter system – in increasing and difficulty. The ratings from 5.10-5.15 are subdivided in a, b, c and d levels to more precisely define the difficulty (for example: 5.10a or 5.11d)
I think we will stick to Class 2 and below in the future.
Back to the story:
According to my Alltrails app, the trail started at 8,150’ of elevation and dropped down to 6,350’ in 1.2 miles. One ranger we spoke to said they had measured it multiple ways and the average grade is 90%.
One section had an 80’ long chain tied to a tree to help climbers up and down.
Other than that, the downhill was not too fun. It was nothing like our last hike in Canyonlands. You were either walking on small loose dirt/small rocks or larger 3-6” flat shale like rocks that moved all over the place. They called it a scree field. Oxford dictionary definition for scree: a mass of small loose stones that form or cover a slope on a mountain. Spot on!
The whole way down I was thinking about Rob and Mitch and their recent knee injuries and how that movement would be fairly easy on this trail. I had my right knee ACL reconstructed about 5 years ago and I still feel soreness when I do something strenuous like this. (No pain, no gain, right!) Lila was having a hard time about 1/2 down and I asked her if she wanted to turn around but she said we are almost there let’s keep going (really we still had 800' of drop left).
The rangers said to make sure to turn around often to make sure you know which way to go on the way back up because there are multiple routes but not all end up on the trail. We took lots of mental notes of which way the trail turned and I even took some pictures. We finally made it to the bottom where we met a couple from Germany and a couple guys who were camping and fishing down there for a couple days. The guy that was fishing couldn’t believe Lila made it down there and we couldn’t believe he was going to hike back up that trail with his camping gear, fishing pole, and waiters. Holy Cow!
Again, the views were worth it.
We took a break on the river to eat our lunch and work on our Jr. Ranger books then we started back up the trail.
As one guy said, going down is really dangerous and going back up is really strenuous, he was right. We had hiking sticks and I held onto one end with Lila holding onto the other end while I packed us up the hill. Once we got past the chain climbing section, Lila climbed the rest of the way on her own, thankfully. I, personally, enjoyed the hike back up 10x better than going down since it wasn’t nearly as slippery. Overall, it took us about 2 hours 45 minutes to finish the whole thing minus the break at the bottom.
We finished the hike and decided we would come back tomorrow to finish our ranger books. I think Jen wants to do another hike, but my knees, calves, and the balls of my feet are saying differently.
Update: I am a sucker for punishment. (Fyi, yesterday's hike was the first hike on this trip where Jen and I were both sore for 2 days) We arrived at the park and Jen wanted to drive to the end of the scenic road which we did and, of course, there was a lookout trail. 😖 It was only 1373 yards long according to the sign with ups and downs 3 times with 400’ of elevation change total. So we went on the Warner Point Nature Trail. Overall, it was a nice trail with an interpretive learning booklet that we had Lila read at almost every stop. The view was pretty amazing from there, but with little sunshine in the canyon it is hard to get a good picture.
After that hike/stroll, we hit a couple more lookouts with very short walks so we could finish our Jr. Ranger books.
We not only finished the regular ranger book , but they had a night sky book as well so we did that one too. The regular book comes with the wooden badge and the night sky program has an iron-on patch that glows-in-the-dark.
If you want additional information on the National Park, here is a great article.